Background: Galectin-3 (Gal-3) is an anti-apoptotic molecule involved in thyroid cells transformation. It is specifically overexpressed in thyroid tumour cells and is currently used as a preoperative diagnostic marker of thyroid malignancy. Gal-3 expression is downregulated by wt-p53 at the transcriptional level. In well-differentiated thyroid carcinomas (WDTCs) there is an unexplained paradoxical concomitant expression of Gal-3 and wt-p53. HIPK2 is a co-regulator of different transcription factors, and modulates basic cellular processes mainly through the activation of wt-p53. Since we demonstrated that HIPK2 is involved in p53-mediated Gal-3 downregulation, we asked whether HIPK2 deficiency might be responsible for such paradoxical Gal-3 overexpression in WDTC.
Methodology/principal findings: We analyzed HIPK2 protein and mRNA levels, as well as loss of heterozygosity (LOH) at the HIPK2 locus (7q32-34), in thyroid tissue samples. HIPK2 protein levels were high in all follicular hyperplasias (FHs) analyzed. Conversely, HIPK2 was undetectable in 91.7% of papillary thyroid carcinomas (PTCs) and in 60.0% of follicular thyroid carcinomas (FTCs). HIPK2 mRNA levels were upregulated in FH compared to normal thyroid tissue (NTT), while PTC showed mean HIPK2 mRNA levels lower than FH and, in 61.5% of cases, also lower than NTT. We found LOH at HIPK-2 gene locus in 37.5% of PTCs, 14.3% of FTCs and 18.2% of follicular adenomas. To causally link these data with Gal-3 upregulation, we performed in vitro experiments, using the PTC-derived K1 cells, in which HIPK2 expression was manipulated by RNA interference (RNAi) or plasmid-mediated overexpression. HIPK2 RNAi was associated with Gal-3 upregulation, while HIPK2 overexpression with Gal-3 downregulation.
Conclusions/significance: Our results indicate that HIPK2 expression and function are impaired in WDTCs, in particular in PTCs, and that this event explains Gal-3 overexpression typically observed in these types of tumours. Therefore, HIPK2 can be considered as a new tumour suppressor gene for thyroid cancers.